Welcome result in Public Inquiry involving Wallingford Corn Exchange

Theatres Trust is delighted that the appeal against refusal of planning permission for an adjoining residential development has been dismissed.

Following a week-long Public Inquiry in November, the Planning Inspectorate has dismissed an appeal against refusal of planning permission for a residential development adjoining the Corn Exchange in Wallingford, Oxfordshire which would have compromised the theatre due to the risk of future noise complaints from new residents. Theatres Trust submitted a detailed written statement and spoke at the Inquiry to highlight the harm restrictions have on the viability of theatres and the vitality of the wider town centre should the venue be forced to close.    

This has been a long-running case, the original planning application having been submitted at the end of 2017. Theatres Trust supported the venue and submitted a number of detailed objections throughout that period. Permission was refused by South Oxfordshire District Council’s Planning Committee in September 2019 after which the applicant submitted an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate that resulted in the Public Inquiry. The Inquiry was then delayed due to Covid-19.  The case has caused much unnecessary anxiety and expense to the Corn Exchange adding to hardship arising from its closure due to the pandemic.

Theatres Trust welcomes this decision not only for protecting a valuable local asset for Wallingford but as it sets an important precedent in safeguarding other theatres and cultural venues threatened by neighbouring developments. Additionally, it demonstrates that ‘Agent of Change’ policy, which only entered into the National Planning Policy Framework in England in 2018, has been able to withstand detailed scrutiny and challenge by several expert witnesses under cross-examination. 

The decision will also come as a welcome relief to the Corn Exchange and its users, some of whom spoke at Inquiry. As the only venue in the town and one which is run by volunteers it plays an important role as a facility for local people and this was clear from the representations made. If new restrictions had been placed on the Corn Exchange as a result of disturbance to new residents it would have severely compromised its ability to continue operating. This would have been devastating for the community.  Theatres Trust’s National Planning Adviser Tom Clarke made this clear in his speech to the Inquiry. 

The Inspector concurred with those concerns, concluding in their report that they “consider that there is a significant risk of harm to future occupants from noise and disturbance” and  “the development could also compromise the Corn Exchange as an established entertainment venue as there could be significant potential for future residents to complain”.  

Theatres Trust’s National Planning Adviser Tom Clarke said, “Having visited the Corn Exchange and seen what an important role it plays within the community, I am delighted the Inspector agreed with us and recognised the harm this development would have caused.  This case also demonstrates that noise conflicts aren’t restricted to large city centres, incompatible development could threaten any venue in the country and this shows how vital the ‘Agent of Change’ policy is within the planning system.”